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 APPETITE FOR SOLDERING RAISED AT ARMED FORCES OPEN DAY   
 Article and photos by Cpl Tebogo Kekana, AD ASTRA Magazine

If the aerospace of Port Elizabeth could sing, the song would probably be 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika', the country’s national anthem that was composed by a Methodist school teacher named Enoch Sontonga in 1897. Befitting song for the Armed Forces Day organised by the South African Defence Force in Port Elizabeth, it is a coincidence that Enoch was born also in the Eastern Cape.

The song’s relevance rings true especially when the largest military equipment since the dawn of democracy was officially open for public viewing on 17 February 2015 at Kings Beach Parking area.

The exhibition, like a nice colourful chakalaka dish, (a staple South African, spicy dish of onions, tomatoes and often beans.) consisted of various weapon systems, including armoured vehicles, radar systems artillery cannons, boats, a diving tank, a helicopter, a medical display and a large recruitment exhibition. It is no wonder that Nolufefe Beda from Rhini spoke highly of her brother who is in the South African Army. “My brother Sgt Thando Beda is a hero in our community, he always has solutions, not only for us, but for the community as well. We once struggled with thieves who stole our livestock, we called him and he didn’t give up until those thieves admitted guilt and paid us back, I am the biggest fan of the military, I will most definitely apply, he is my hero”.


Captain Terence Vukela was charged with the mandate of exposing the youth to aviation

Just as the quaint chakalaka is usually served, the locals gathered in droves and tasted what the SANDF has prepared for them. They marveled at the displays from tent to tent, they asked questions, they ululated and whistled to the precision drill displays, they climbed and walked on the bridge that was built in less than ten minutes by the SA Army engineers. Cleoanne Ruiters from Breylin High School in Walmer said it was her first time she flew in a military aircraft, after announcing that she wasn’t afraid of heights, she bragged that, “As a prefect at school, it was important for me to ask as many questions as possible because I need to report back to the Principal tomorrow. I want to join the SA Navy, this is the chance I have been waiting for, I was looking at them while they were drilling and I saw myself in that uniform. I am glad Maths and Science are subjects that are not just difficult, but they open many avenues for one to can pursue”.


The avidity to understand how the military works was written on their faces

The two were part of the 63 who were given flips on the South African Air force’s Dakota. The adrenaline was too much for Lana Walters who threw up, luckily she came back having made friends with the South African Military Health Services who made sure that her “Chakalaka” didn’t spill onto others. “I always thought I would become a doctor, but after that flight, there is no way I am not becoming a pilot, I’ve seen the cockpit, I think I can do it”.


The Siyandiza and DHRS related fantastic stories about being in uniform at the open day

When the day drew to an end, Sgt Lebogang Letsoalo, an Air Force Recruitment Non Commissioned Officer commented that she had lost count of the people who asked her what it takes to become a pilot like herself. “I explained more than a hundred times today that there are many other careers in the Air Force and that I also wish I could become a pilot one day”. As the sun sets, members gathered up, faced the national flag and sang with pride what Sontonga sang many moons ago, it all became real when the entire arena joined in and singing:

Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,

Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo…

 

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